We’ve finally reached the end of this long journey……’s first of seven rounds! This bracket is quite top heavy with some genuine modern classics in the top two and an all-timer at number three. It’s also got my first favorite show in this mix, fwiw, in the bawdy daytime parody my parents somehow let me watch when I was three, Soap. On that note, it’s not a bad coincidence that the first lasting show to feature a gay character (Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dennis) pops up on the first day of Pride Month; even if Dennis had some problematic features, he was also a fully realized compelling character who bucked stereotypes more often than he reinforced them (although he did do that too, and Crystal has always straddled a line). It also features a program that I went back and forth on including, ultimately deciding that even if Ambien Racist’s name was on the original ’80s classic, it was always more about the whole family and unlike that other guy, there have been three seasons of the show WITHOUT her name.
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16. The Young Ones (BBC, 1982-84) – A punky metalhead, a wannabe anarchist, a “cool” schemer, and a hippie share a dismal London flat. This underground cult classic answered the question can every character on a show be utterly unlikable (and barely even relatable), yet still have an adoring fanbase.
15. Full House (ABC, 1987-95) – The Tanners are here to represent the classic basic sitcom as their relatable family would get embroiled in troubles that doubled as teachable moments–dad Danny and Uncles Jesse and Joey were always there to remind you of the messes you made, ones you oughta know about.
14. What’s Happening!! (ABC, 1976-79) – This is one of those plucky shows that was always a bit more popular and influential than it seemed at first. If you are of a certain age, the Doobie Brothers will conjure up thoughts of Raj, Dwayne, and Rerun foolishly believing they could sneak a recording device to tape them. The show was actually canceled in the worst way possible, when the studio execs decided they would prefer not to give the stars a raise.
13. Night Court (NBC, 1984-92) – A goofy veneer disguised what was at heart a well-written farce turning a fear of NYC in the late hours on its ear. All sorts of NYC criminal cliches would scuttle in and out of the courtroom of Judge Harry Stone (comedian/illusionist Harry Anderson) as his cartoonish staff traded jokes that were funnier than they had any right to be. Fun fact: it had a mini-reunion on another show in this section of the bracket.
12. The Conners/Roseanne (ABC 2018-present/ABC 1988-97) – This was an emotionally complicated one, as we did not want to waste a spot on whackadoodle Roseanne, but since there exists essentially the same show without her and much of the power of the original show stemmed from Dan and Darlene and Jackie, et al. So here it is: Roseanne Minus Roseanne (or if you vote for it, vote for whatever you wish the show to be).
11. Better Off Ted (ABC, 2009-10) – Here’s another from the canceled-too-soon files. Jay Harrington is Ted Crisp (and, yes, the name is addressed), an ultra-confident, but morally uncorrupted middle manager navigating the absurdities at a soulless corporation–and we’re not talking mildly soulless: they freeze their employees, create monstrosoties like octo-chickens and fire squirrels, and force their employees to insult each other rather than admit to a typo on a memo. The excellent cast also included Portia de Rossi as his sociopathic, but trying boss, Malcolm Barrett and Jonathan Slavin as hapless genius scientists, and Andrea Anders as a quality control manager and Ted’s crush. Watch out for Anders who is currently showing her range as a domineering abductee’s mom in the excellent Freeform thriller Cruel Summer.
10. Girlfriends (UPN/The CW, 2000-08) – Living even more single, this underrated sitcom from the group-of-friends genre introduced the world to the beacon of light that is Tracee Ellis Ross. Ross plays Joan Carol Clayton, Esq, a successful law-talking gal who looks out for her group of friends, often ignoring her own inevitable troubles in the meanwhile. Between the best writing on UPN and the genuine chemistry of Ross with Golden Brooks’ Maya, Persia White’s Lynn Ann, and Jill Marie Jones’ Toni made this show one of the most quietly powerful comedies on TV in the aughts.
9. Barney Miller (ABC, 1975-82) – Long before Brooklyn Nine-Nine, this show based a few miles to the west in Greenwich Village’s 12th Precinct laid the groundwork for a cop comedy that balanced emotional looks into darker topics with the level of belly laughs of, say, Car 54, Where Are You? (a classic that just missed the cut for this tourney). Hal Linden’s steady Capt. Miller played straight man to an office full of affable kooks just capable to arrest an array of even kookier criminals while attending to a general public that would give the Parks and Recreation meeting attendees a run for their money.
8. Martin (Fox, 1992-97) – More than just a vehicle for all-time great stand-up Martin Lawrence and his cabinet of characters, the slapstick-heavy sitcom injected just enough heart and emotional drama to earn its “classic” status. While Sheneneh and Otis and Jerome and others (all played by Lawrence) could be genuinely funny at their best, it was the vulnerability of Martin Payne as he screwed up constantly but still found some way to win back his true love Gina played by Tisha Campbell. It didn’t hurt that the show featured in recurring roles a pre-SNL Tracy Morgan and a post-SNL Garrett Morris.
7. Soap (ABC 1977-81) – This was the story of two sisters: Jessica Tate and Mary Campbell–or so the ubiquitous intro would have you believe. At its heart, this show was an insoucient satire of the emotional tics and melodrama of soap operas that evolved into its own compelling family show. It was a show which could include a ventriloquist and dummy, alien abductions, absurd affairs with tennis pros, two wisecracking butlers, storylines about the mafia and erectile dysfunction, while never severing the audience’s heartfelt connection with the characters. It was Arrested Development before there was Arrested Development–a show that was certainly paying tribute to Soap‘s iconic intro and outro with its own spins on those.
6. Fleabag (BBC, 2016-19) – Phoebe Waller-Bridge took Miranda‘s sloppiness, outcast status, and meta asides and sprinted off to a way darker, practically prestige drama place. Ne’er-e’er-e’er-do-well Fleabag’s real name is never revealed–nor is she ever called Fleabag for that matter–and few people have actual names in her universe (save perfect sister Claire) as she staggers between hook ups, mad crushes, bumbles, and cruel fates. Award winning actress Olivia Colman is Stepmom, she has a one-night stand with Arsehole Guy, she is professionally intertwined with Bank Manager. Yet, somehow, the show remains hilarious (and her character oddly compelling) throughout all of this.
5. Newhart (CBS, 1982-90) – Newhart’s second show–famously, a long, Japanese food-fueled fever dream of his first show’s lead Dr. Bob Hartley–finds the world’s calmest comedian as Dick Loudon, the button-down owner with wife Joanna of the Stratford Inn. Constantly beset by its unspecified town’s oddballs, including William Sanderson’s iconic Larry, ever introducing his speechless brother Daryl and his equally silent other brother Daryl, Dick keeps his cool at the center of it all.
4. Veep (HBO, 2012-19) – As politics got crazier and more bizarre in the 2010s, this show felt more and more prescient. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss created her third iconic character (ok, I may be exaggerating Old Christine‘s status to fit my point, but whatever, have you created two iconic TV characters? I sure haven’t!) with the consience lacking political climber who as the series opens holds the titular position, but during the span of the show also was Prez and Civvy. The show thrived on its vast universe of governmental miscreants and fools, including Tony Hale’s sycophantic Gary, Sam Richardson’s indefatigable Richard Splett, and Timothy Simons’ whatever-the-fuck-a-Jonah-is.
3. The Honeymooners (CBS, 1955-56) – Jackie Gleason’s classic comedy was so enduring in syndication, it’s hard to fathom that the show only lasted a single season of 39 episodes. The Kramdens set the template for gritty, working class comedies as bus driver Ralph sparred with his wife Alice while both would get wrapped up in antics with neighbors, sewer worker Ed Norton (Art Carney in his signature role) and his wife Trixie (the amazingly still alive Joyce Randolph). In fact, it’s so iconic, it was the target of parody with Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin as the leads in the live episode of the next show on our list.
2. 30 Rock (NBC, 2006-13) – It’s hard to believe now that at one point people wondered whether this or Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip would be the successful SNL BTS parody debuting in 2006. The one created by and starring the actual former head writer naturally would last seven seasons while its rival would last one–as its creator Aaron Sorkin would generously poke fun of in a cameo. Fey created a world that celebrated, while mocking, the glory of television, while surrounding herself with a talented universe, led by Baldwin as her right-wing executive with a heart of gold boss/mentor, Tracy Morgan essentially playing himself as her excess addicted, yet shamanic star, Jane Krakowski as her vain and insecure longtime friend and former star of the show, and the absolute find in Jack McBrayer as the wide-eyed lover of the Peacock (NBC) Kenneth the Page.
1. The Office [US] (NBC, 2005-13) – While we could argue all day about this being seeded higher than the original, it’s hard to deny the importance of this Americanization of an emerging cult favorite on the current television landscape. Steve Carrell’s “World’s Best Boss” Michael Scott was a tad more relatable and redeemable than Ricky Gervais’ David Brent, but still was at a level of cringeworthy that was somehow–as hard as his screwups could be to watch–also bingeworthy. As ridiculous and incompetent as many of the characters are, and none of the workers and managers at Dunder-Mifflin come off smelling wholly sweet, they were relatable because they weren’t that far off the oddballs anyone who has ever worked in an office have seen (and deep down, we know we’ve all been a few of them at one time or another). And given this show’s staying power among the next generation, there is nowhere this could be but number one.